ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976)
ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976)
ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976)
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ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976)
5 More
Property from an Important American Collection
ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976)

Crag

Details
ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976)
Crag
incised with the artist's monogram and date 'CA 74' (on the uppermost red element); signed again with the artist's monogram and dated again 'CA 74' (on the base)
standing mobile—sheet metal, rod, wire and paint
78 x 62 x 40 in. (198 x 157.5 x 101.6 cm.)
Executed in 1974.
Provenance
Galerie Maeght, Paris
Pace Gallery, New York, 1981
Private collection, New York, 1981
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 14 November 2006, lot 66
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Exhibited
Hanover, Gallery Brusberg, Alexander Calder: Mobiles, Stabiles, Grafik, und Critters, December 1980–March 1981, pp. 29 and 33 (illustrated).
Further details
This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A02840.

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Lot Essay

A black, fantastical monolith stands boldly with red, yellow, and black metallic forms hanging delicately in the balance. Crag, executed in 1974, exudes an energetic grandeur by combining multiple of the iconic elements that have become synonymous with the name Alexander Calder. The impressive sculpture juxtaposes motifs—the solid, oblong center supporting the dynamic, kinetic components. Both are unified in the shadows they cast on their surroundings, equally as captivating as the work itself. Calder’s work is immediately recognizable, and has resonated profoundly through manifold art movements, geographic locations, and time periods. Crag is the result of a long career of experimentation. Embraced by Surrealists and abstractionists alike, Calder never quite pinned himself down. He cultivated an oeuvre that cannot adequately be compared to any other artist. This seminal work represents Calder’s everlasting ingenuity, originality, and imagination.

“Why must art be static? You look at abstraction, sculptured or painted, an intensely exciting arrangement of planes, spheres, nuclei, entirely without meaning. It would be perfect but it is always still. The next step is sculpture in motion.” A. Calder

In 1926, when he was 27 years old, Calder moved to Paris to study at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. There, he connected with many artists, including the Dutch abstract painter Piet Mondrian. A revelation in Calder’s development of his personal style came when he visited Mondrian’s studio in October of 1930, where he was impacted by the environment, not the paintings. Calder observed that Mondrian had created cardboard rectangles in bright colors and various whites which he could arrange into different compositions on the main wall. The overall experience impressed upon Calder two things: first, he felt "shocked" into abstraction, and second—soon after—he wanted his abstract art to move. As he proclaimed two year s later: “Why must art be static? You look at abstraction, sculptured or painted, an intensely exciting arrangement of planes, spheres, nuclei, entirely without meaning. It would be perfect, but it is always still. The next step is sculpture in motion” (A. Calder quoted in “Objects to Art Being Static, So He Keeps It in Motion” New York World-Telegram, 11 June 1932).

Following this experience, Calder took part in exhibitions and publications with the Abstraction-Création group from 1931 to 1933. A bit subversively, he did not associate exclusively with this group, as simultaneously he was becoming friendly with Dada and Surrealist artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Jean Arp, and André Breton. Calder’s outgoing personality made it easy to make friends, but he did not feel the need to sign any manifestos. This independent approach to artistic style set Calder apart from his contemporaries and culminated in an entirely singular oeuvre.

While Calder's output in nonobjective, elements of surrealism can be inferred from a sculpture such as Crag, even though it was executed nearly fifty years after his venture in Paris. Surrealism is evident especially in the undulated form of the dark center. The form could be something from a dream, or the silhouette on a mysterious entity while looking out into the night. At the center of the Surrealism movement was the belief in the unconscious mind as a channel to the imagination. This is perhaps most famously embodied by Spanish artist Salvador Dalí.

The mobile of yellow, red, and black disks resting on top points to the principle of disparity so fundamental to the artist's practice. Though completely abstract, they induce a wonder in the viewer. A gentle breeze is enough to stir the pieces, shifting the shadows like a kaleidoscope in kinetic, colorful choreography. Founder of Surrealism André Breton wrote that Calder’s work “conveys to us with equal felicity the evolutions of the celestial bodies, the trembling of leaves on the branches, the memory of caresses,” (A. Breton quoted in M. Rosenthal, The Surreal Calder, exh. cat. Menil Collection, Houston, 2005, p. 18). Calder’s lifelong fascination with gesture, energy, and immateriality shines brightly in his works including mobiles. They sway and spin and activate the surrounding space, and when the light hits just right, they engage luminous energy. Calder was struck by the immensity and grandeur of nature’s magnitudes when he was on a steamship in 1922. According to Calder, he “saw the beginning of a fiery red sunrise on one side and the moon looking like a silver coin on the other… it left me with a lasting sensation of the solar system” (A. Calder, Calder: An Autobiography with Pictures, New York, 1966, pp. 54-55).

Crag is a seminal work representing a lifetime of development and Calder’s personal manifesto, unencumbered by the agendas of official groups. It precariously balances logic and emotion, delicacy and solidity, the abstract and the familiar. In its history it has seen various galleries and sales, eventually arriving in an important American collection in 2006, where it has been since. The crags are gems in Calder’s oeuvre. He constantly pushed the boundaries of what could be done with the medium, arranging, rearranging, and creating new elements wherever there was a need. His materials are simple—sheet metal, wire, and paint—but he masterfully transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary. As the viewer moves around the work, the air shifts and the kinetic sculpture responds and breathes with life. A quiet, intimate connection forms that cannot adequately be compared to any other artist. In 20th century art history, Calder is unparalleled in his command over three-dimensional space and the emotions of viewers.

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